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Our Political Nature is evolutionary anthropologist Avi Tuschman’s first book. In the work Tuschman posits that there are underlying causes that explain the political orientation of each individual across religious, cultural, and national boundaries. The book is organized into six sections that relate to the evolutionary and personal origins that contribute to political personality: tribalism, tribalism’s biological origins, tolerance of inequality, biology of family conflict, biology of altruism and perceptions of human nature.
Dr. Tuschman introduces the reader to the scientific evaluation of an individual’s conservatism. Tuschman argues that an individual’s results are less a personal choice than a factor of genetics and are relatively immutable throughout the course of one’s lifetime. Tuschman synthesizes the combined research of many to support his theory of human expression of political identity. Tuschman pulls global examples citing studies from places varied such as Israel, Libya, Peru, Pakistan and the United States to support his findings across religious groups, political systems and climates and establish the universality of the left to right spectrum of liberal to conservative thought he argues we all fall upon. He argues that a conservative outlook, which can be scientifically tested on an unbiased scale, encourages ethnocentrism that can reinforce tribal nature whereas more liberal attitudes tend to express xenophilia, the interest in out-group people, and are more likely to partner with people from other groups. Relatedly, where ethnocentrism and conservative behaviors are prevalent, so are rates of religiosity. Where religiosity is high, so are rates of childbirth relative to the secular population and as well as negative attitudes towards non-reproductive sexual behaviors.
In the examination of a hypothesis it can be challenging to avoid letting one’s assumptions sway the outcomes of the study. Reading the work I felt that Tuschman did a good job of letting the research speak for itself with scant assumptions. One assumption, that though I agreed with, seemed to stand without fact. In the examination of the conflict in Israel between Ultra Orthodox Ashkenazim who refused to allow their children to study with Ultra Orthodox Sephardim and Mizrahim the book states that the reason the Ashkenazim protested was that the Sephardim and Mizrahim allowed televisions in their homes and they did not want their children’s minds to be corrupted by ideas they felt to be unsuitable in an atmosphere of shared learning. Despite both groups being religious Jews, Tuschman argued there is an ethnocentricity that intensifies with religiosity that impedes the expanding of the tribe. The irony of course is that given that the relative newcomers of European descent think that the Jews who have stay localized during the past two millennia are not as good Jews as they. From this, Tuschman made the judgment that the actual underlying cause was that despite the words used to argue, the true fear was based in tribalism that was unwilling to allow for the eventuality of friendships that may later in life result in marriage. Although this may sound like a reasonable deduction it was conveyed in a manner that felt like speculation.
Overall, the work is a captivating study that combines interdisciplinary research across the sciences to create a more complete picture of the human psyche as we relate to others and ourselves. I was intrigued by the examples cited and felt myself largely convinced of Tuschman’s arguments. My greatest critique of the work is the editing. There is high quality research however in the presentation of facts the tone sometimes shifts from academic to informal. Additionally, there were instances where sentences should have combined into one fluid thought instead of fragmented throughout a paragraph.
I would recommend this book to anyone who is tired of hearing outdated and unhelpful ideas of why certain groups behave as they do. This work portrays no one as a victim of their position and circumstance but rather explains how those conditions work in tandem to influence thought and perhaps even predict reactions. Our Political Nature excels in taking the fear out of the ‘other’ by creating context for political identity. The work enables the reader to evaluate their position on the spectrum, which facilitates the respect of the placement of another at a different point across cultures, both domestic and abroad, due to a better rubric for evaluating the factors that shape our political personality. Our Political Nature has the potential to make us more understanding of difference and less critical of the choices of other by encouraging healthier ways to judge behaviors among less familiar populations. If for no other reason, that point is why I think this book provides valuable information to the whole of humanity that makes it worth the read.
Courtney D. Sharpe is a world traveler who has spent extensive time in the Middle East studying, traveling and working with the Peace Corps. She is a graduate of Northwestern University where she pursued a double degree in International Studies and Religion.